Your brain is supercharged with about a billion new brain cells that form essential connections called neurons that support you in learning and doing everything you need and want to do. The brain cells you use will strengthen; the ones you don’t will wither away. The withering part is just as important as the strengthening part. This is a process of your brain becoming smarter and more efficient. Your brain doesn’t need every one of your billion new neurons. Letting go of the neurons you don’t need will make space and energy available to strengthen the ones that you do need. Adolescence is considered to be the time of “fine-tuning” your brain.
What causes this growing or withering? Every experience you encounter will change your brain. Spend too much time on the couch, and there will be brain cells that simply die off. However, when you apply action or even thought into something, all of the neurons that are needed to complete that task will fire up together. The parts of the brain that are needed for that task will light up and strengthen.
The skills you learn during adolescence will be richer and more enduring than anything you learn at any other time of your life. If you play music or a sport, do drama, paint, cook, or learn a language, these connections will get stronger and stronger as you practice each activity. Messages that travel the same pathway in the brain over and over as you practice something begin to transmit their messages faster and faster in unison. With enough repetition, they become practically automatic.
Ever heard the phrase, “practice makes perfect”? Since there really is no such thing as “perfect,” let’s just say practice helps you complete tasks more efficiently, proficiently, and with greater ease. Rather than “perfect,” I prefer to say, “practice makes progress.” Through practice, your brain puts together a network of neurons, which transmit faster and faster each time you engage in the activity.
Now here is the cool thing about mindfulness: when you imagine yourself doing one of those amazing tasks, like riding a bike, playing tennis, shooting a basket, or the like, your brain does not know the difference between actually engaging in the task or simply imagining it. When you use your imagination in this focused way (not just for a brief moment, but really focus, for say 3-5 minutes), the same neurons will hook up in your brain as if you were physically completing the task. Pretty awesome for sure.
Here is a wonderful way you can practice something using the power of your amazing mind (perhaps while you lie on the couch). We call this meditation, AMAZING ME.
Find a quiet space. Perhaps you put on your headphones and listen to some soft music. Take a few deep breaths inn out to settle yourself. Begin to imagine yourself doing something that you really want to achieve. You can choose an activity, or even a picture of yourself in your distant future. Let’s say, you would like to be an award winning snowboarder. You don’t have to know HOW you will become one. Simply imagine yourself there, doing it and being it. Let yourself imagine the fresh air, the warm sun, the exhilaration flying down the mountain. Let yourself feel what is is like, by using your imagination.
Share this with a tween or teen that you think can benefit from this knoweldge or exercise. Can you imagine if more adolescents knew the power of using their imagination to become the vision of themselves that makes them proud, kind, wise, brave, confident…and so much more?